A Bill to establish an Irish DNA database was recently presented to the Oireachtas, There are elements of this legislation which will impact my work in Juvenile Justice. I plan to submit ammendments to the legislation reflecting the issues that I see as important. I do feel that a distinction should be made in length of time a sample is kept for juveniles as opposed to those over eighteen years of age.
Firstly could I congratulate the Oireachtas Library & Research service for once again producing an excellent digest on the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 that is before us here today.
The topic covered by this legislation is one which generates much interest and debate. We in Fine Gael have long been calling for the introduction of this legislation.
The subject of DNA and Forensic Evidence and its application to crime is one which has captured the imagination of the public with numerous television programmes, films and novels portraying a system where the criminal is eventually made to pay for their crimes due to the application of scientific methodology.
We have seen this manifest itself through our education system with an ever increasing demand by students for courses at university and third level colleges in this field.
This portrayal does not really reflect the more mundane reality.
I want to first deal with the finance for the project. I note that the Minister has set aside €4.1 million of his 2010 capital budget for the development of the DNA database.
If I were the Minister I would review some of the States more recent forays into the world of information technology. I do believe he should take a good look at electronic voting, PPARS and various other IT initiatives that very quickly ran out of control from a cost point of view and ultimately were scrapped providing none of the advantages to the Irish public that they were supposed to.
The fact that the system is ultimately electronic in nature means that the Minister has to come from the point of view that the system is also corruptible. It is at this early stage of its establishment that he should deal with this universality and put in place the relevant safeguards to optimise its performance.
The subsequent annual costs of maintenance and oversight must also be nailed down at this early stage.
It is somewhat ironic that we are embarking on this interaction of science technology and the law when we hear from the representative associations that many of our Garda stations are not yet email enabled.
I would prefer that the Minister in publishing this Bill would make more of a distinction in the area of Juvenile Justice. Statistics and Data as published by the Irish Youth Justice Service and backed up by the Gardai show a marked drop off in criminal behaviour once youth reach the approximate ages of 16 to 17. I would like to see a commensurate change in the period of time that data is held for people of this age. There is a strong body of opinion that our Juvenile Justice system should be distinct from the Adult Criminal Justice System. The Minister in maintaining similar sample retention times for those under 18 as to those over 18 flies somewhat in the face of the reforms his department are pursuing in relation to Juvenile Justice. I hope that this anomaly is addressed at Committee stage.
The historical International experience in the use of DNA databases seems to have been one of establishment, followed by expansion, followed by review and to a certain extent row back. The operational manner of many has changed over the years. I understand that in this legislation the Minister has taken due cognisance of the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the S & Marper case. The results of this case are interesting to me in that the initial evidence for the original UK DNA database was provided when both S & Marper were juveniles. Again to stress the point I ask that the Minister create more of a distinction in the legislation between juvenile and adult.
The contentious element of the legislation is no doubt the use of the DNA database and the information contained thereon in relation to people that have not been convicted or charged with any crime, again I believe the Minister needs to tread carefully here. I do think the legislation needs more work here. No matter how much the Minister might say there is not, there is the implication of some type of guilt when ones details are maintained as proposed. This interaction between science and the law can be interpreted as an undermining of the basic tenet of innocent until proven guilty.
The Review Mechanisms as proposed by the Minister do to my mind need more scrutiny.
Section 69(4) provides that in publishing any report or laying a copy of a report received before each House of the Oireachtas, the Minister:
“may omit any matter from the copy of the report that is so laid or published if he or she is of opinion that the disclosure of the matter-
(a) would be prejudicial to the security of the DNA Database System, the security of the State or the investigation of criminal offences, or
(b) may infringe the constitutional rights of any person.”
The point being made in (a) could ultimately be interpreted as unquestioning of the system itself or the manner in which it becomes operational. I have already stated one cannot make such an assumption in relation to something that is by nature electronically based. I would like to see this aspect of review mechanisms further teased out at Committee Stage.
In conclusion I welcome the publication of this Bill and feel that on balance it will be an asset to the State in the fight against crime. This is a contentious piece of legislation there is still much work to be done to improve the Bill during its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.